Bayan Audio Soundbook X3 review

Appending ‘book’ to the names of laptops is popular in the US – witness the PowerBook, MacBook and tributes like the HP ProBook. But in the case of the British-designed Soundbook we have a portable speaker that more closely resembles an actual hardback book.

Placed flat on a table, there’s a rakish slant to the case like a well-thumbed old tome. But it’s designed to be used upright, by pulling on the jeans tab on the book’s cover, held in place by a magnet within. Folding the cover right back around the bottom forms a stable platform for the Soundbook to sit upon.

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As you open the cover on this weighty little box, the magnets that keep it sealed also activate a switch to turn the speaker on. From behind the small perforations in the front grille you can see a four-digit LED display which briefly flashes to reveal which source is active – there’s a choice of three, either Bluetooth, Auxiliary (through 3.5mm minijack at the back), or FM radio.

An FM radio is built-in, a welcome addition for a kitchen radio and much preferable on sonic grounds to the low-fi alternative of DAB. There’s no exterior antenna although we had no reception issues from our admittedly good reception area.

Also included on the back panel is a USB Type A port for powering and charging mobile devices. It will even charge an iPad.

Along the top sits a row of real press buttons. There are two with up/down arrows for radio tuning, two more + and – buttons to the right for volume, and a power switch in the middle. Against intuition, the power button also switches between inputs.

Inside the Soundbook X3 are two pairs of 1.5in speaker driver units, arranged two a side behind the fixed grille. These are powered by a D2Audio Class D module. The advertised power rating is 20W, although this is of the cheaty 10W plus 10W stereo variety. Also lurking inside and quite literally making its presence felt is a 3in passive bass radiator, which shakes in sympathy with the music to enhance bass output.

Construction quality is first-class, the main chassis made from a hefty satin-finished aluminium frame and a metal front grille. Ballistic nylon covers the front cover and the back, in a choice of silver or black colours.

Sound quality

At normal listening levels the Soundbook has a sound more kindly outlined as muffled but plush. It truly sounds larger, more fuller in the bass than the you’d give its book-like size credit. The tone can be gentle but the fulsome upper bass masks the midrange, making speech sound overly chesty. The treble rolls off smoothly if prematurely and overall intelligibility of music is poor.

But turn up the volume, all the way until the white LEDs along the top are all lit, and the Soundbook changes into a little music monster, punching up loudly and with enormous gusto. Without ever clipping, thanks to some heavy-duty peak-limiting DSP, it sounds extremely loud in an AM-radio compressed-dynamics kind of way. The bass pulse continues in uptempo music, as does a less welcome one-note quality which robs music of any sensible pitch foundation.

When music is not playing over Bluetooth, we sometimes heard background whistling tones through the speakers. Another idiosyncrasy is the way the volume suddenly plummets when the battery runs low, as it switches to its power-saving mode.

OUR VERDICT

This is a smart and well-made compact Bluetooth speaker, with the added benefit of an easy-tune FM radio. It would win any contest in sheer volume per unit size, although with that first prize for quantity would come a booby prize for sound quality. While competent for quieter if muffled background kitchen chat radio, it lacks any subtlety when in its full-volume element. It may have some style and convenience but it’s incredibly overpriced when judged on its music reproduction alone.

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